Eco Travel on a Budget
Last year, gas prices hit the roof and we all had staycations. Remember that? We rediscovered the joys of our own backyards. We looked at our cities and towns afresh with new eyes, seeking out the fun things to do that didn't require a tank of gas to get there. We found contentment in being home among friends and family and neighbors. We knew that our footstep on the planet was just a little lighter too; after all, we were no longer driving to get places. We were already there.
But this year is different.
Oh, the staycations will still be around. We'll find new ways of making them fun, relaxing, and rejuvenating while being eco- and budget-conscious. But some of us are feeling a little wanderlust. Some of us long for new places, new faces, and new experiences. Can we somehow magically combine keeping a light footprint with keeping within a budget? We can!
Getting there. Transportation options, getting from one place to another, all take a toll on the environment; until we all learn how to spread our arms and fly or to teleport to where we want to go, we're faced with planes, trains, automobiles and buses, and boats. Of these, trains are by far the greenest choice, and if you're willing to spend 4 days in a single reclining seat, you can travel coast-to-coast within the US for about the price of an airline ticket (one-way Amtrak tickets from New York to LA start at $183). The cost goes up precipitously if you require being horizontal when you sleep (add another $400-800), but 4 days of watching spendid scenery unroll outside your window could well add up to being the trip of your life-well worth a little discomfort.
Now is the time to score cheap air tickets if you want to travel abroad, though. Look to leave either almost right away or in the autumn-the "shoulder" seasons-for the best deals. Or head south of the Equator on the offseason; travel Down Under is really reasonable right now, and the sights are just as pretty in the cooler wetter season as they are in the warmer drier season. Accommodations are also easier-and cheaper-to book. And once you get there, consider using public transportation to get you around rather than renting a car. You'll save money and get to know the culture better.
Eco Travel on a Budget
Where to stay. Think outside the hotel-room-box for green and budget choices that not only carry a lighter footstep but also bring you in closer contact with the people, environment, and culture you're visiting. Here are some of our favorites:
- Camping. Requires a tent, a backpack, and an open mind. Kids adore camping, and it's a great way to unplug, relax, and rewind. Bonus: there's probably even great camping close to home! Additional bonus: just breathe in all that nature has to offer and you'll take that feeling home with you.
- Hostels. Not just for college kids wielding worn backpacks, many hostels have private rooms for couples or family accommodation. They're typically located in urban areas where free and cheap entertainment abounds, and have fully-equipped kitchens so you can prepare your own healthy meals instead of shouldering the expense of eating out. Most have perks like free wi-fi and local phone calls, and are located close to train and bus stations. Though hostelling isn't as popular in the US, in Europe it's an art form and should be strongly considered as a green budget option.
- Backpackers. No backpack required! In Europe and around the world, communal travel accommodations are perfected to an art. Unless you prefer a cheap $20 bed in a dorm, you can also find clean-if basic-private accommodation for $30-50 a night. Backpackers-style hostels all have a communal area where you can swap travel stories and get ideas from fellow travelers as well as create a delicious meal in the communal kitchen. Book ahead for best results. Bring your own toiletries.
- Guesthouses and B & Bs. Small cozy hotels and converted homes with 2-4 guest rooms are common in Europe and the U.K., most offering a vast and delicious breakfast included in the very reasonable price. These accommodations are almost uniformly clean and comfortable (in Germany and Austria: fluffy down duvets!) and offer basic amenities. You're staying, in most cases, in someone's home-a great way to get to know the local people.
Be adventurous. There's no better way to connect with our wonderful world than seeing more of it. People around the world are friendly and open. They want to meet you and get to know you, too. Let go of some of your old ideas about travel and be open to new experiences and new ways of doing things. You'll arrive back home refreshed and forever changed by the sights you've seen and the people you met along the way.
By K. Murphy